Yesterday, the local peace coalitions put together a "Peace Demonstration and March."
I have begun participating in one of the coalitions-- the one nearest my town-- and have grown to really respect the leader.
I arrived at the stated 2:00 start time for the march, discovering that the marchers were inside the church meeting place. Looking now at the email notice, it did say "There will be speakers before and after the March."
By 3:15, some of the activist friends I'd met up with there and I were getting antsy. We'd come to march, not listen to a poetry slam. We stepped outside. People were starting to leave. This march was floundering. We went inside, only to overhear some of the leaders discussing the fact that a priest at the Catholic Church, St. Martin of Tours, in New Hope, PA, had thrown out the group setting up the audio for the end of the march. Apparently, arrangements had been made with the pastor, and this junior priest hadn't gotten word and was taking the cowardly, cover his ass way out.
Apparently, two people decided that the 360+ marchers would sit to listen to all the people who were scheduled to speak, read poetry and play the guitar after the march-- even the marchers who hadn't planned on staying and listening.
Meanwhile, the day was slipping away, and more people were leaving.
Now, my activist friends and I got to know each other when we were participating in "run against Bush" back in summer 2004. Our whole purpose was to get local pedestrians, passers-by, drivers to be aware that there were a lot of us opposing Bush. Every Tuesday evening, as many as 100 would walk several miles of the streets of the county seat. We knew that the goal is visibility-- to get people's attention.
And here we were, participating in another group's activity, feeling frustrated. But this was happening on a day when vigils and actions were taking place all over the country. Another friend had asked me to participate in a vigil that same day and I had encouraged him to join the march.
The decision by the leaders who were making calling the shots in the church seemed very wrong to us. We asked how much longer the "show" would go on and were told about half an hour. We went upstairs to see a woman reading page after page of lecture-- saying things about Iraq that every activist in the audience already knew. I've learned that she had a five minute allotted time. But she stretched it into 15-20 minutes. As a conference organizer, I believe that people who go over their time limit are extremely disrespectful of both the people who are supposed to follow them and the audience. It may be weak or non-existent self awareness and self regulation, or it may be selfish ego driven ignoring of the terms the speaker agreed to. But it was clear that this was not going to be 30 minutes. There at least five speakers, guitarists, poets... and it takes time for set-up, between "acts."
So Rich and I approached one of the two leaders. We suggested to her that this was a bad idea. She explained she was keeping things going in consideration for the people who were supposed to do their thing after the march, since the church was no longer available.
I said the march was not about the needs of a few guitarists, poets and speakers. She said they'd be done in 30 minutes. The women who was already on overtime kept droning on, reading her talk. (I hate it when speakers read a talk. They're not even speakers-- they're readers and have no place at a rally. Even Jesse Jackson uses notes for his talks, but he gives an impassioned speech, doesn't read and read and read.)
I suggested to this woman running things that we the people should be deciding whether we should be marching or sitting for another 30-60 minutes. We're doing it as fast as we can, she replied. The "reader" at the podium droned on, minutes ticking by like hours.
Rich and I went to the back of the church, having made no headway. We went outside, and there was a crowd of people, milling, all frustrated, more leaving. We went back in to see what would happen when the "reader" finished. She was getting the next speaker up at the podium. Suddenly, someone out in the hall behind the main church area called out, loudly, "March." That broke the ice and Rich and I started talking/shouting... "we're here to march, not sit." The MC running things informed the audience that they would watch the rest of the people who were supposed to go on after the march and then leave. I said, "let we-the-people decide."
A few dozen people got up and started leaving, while the next speaker was preparing.